BRUCKNER Symphony No 6 (Haitink)
It’s pleasing to see Haitink still including Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony in his concert programmes, even if it doesn’t feature as frequently as the last three symphonies. This recording of the Sixth is his third on a mainstream label, and arguably the most successful. His 1970 studio recording for Philips was judged by Deryck Cooke in these pages (11/71) as being too fast, and while Haitink’s tempo choices don’t trouble me especially, it’s not an interpretation that digs particularly deep. His live 2003 recording on Profil, made during his short tenure as principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden, does not offer a significant advance over the earlier version, undermined in particular from a sub-par opening movement and a slightly dry sound.
Haitink’s interpretation of the first movement in this new recording also leans towards the doctrinaire, notably in the radiant second subject group, but the recording is more sympathetic than in Dresden and the orchestral response notably more refined. Dynamic markings are meticulously observed throughout, and the solo contributions are excellent. The playing of the solo horn in bars 75 76 of the Adagio (6'14") is especially memorable, bringing a Mahlerian feel to this particular passage, and the Trio of the Scherzo is richly atmospheric. The performance of the finale is also spirited and persuasive, although there’s a puzzling falling off of energy at the very close. On balance, this is the recording to choose for anyone wanting to hear Haitink in this symphony. Given the choice of any recording, however, I’d plump for Sawallisch on Orfeo or the 1995 Wand performance on Profil, both of which come closer to communicating the essence this wonderful symphony.